In adapting and directing Patrick White’s 1948 novel, The Aunt’s Story, for the stage, Adam Cook had to balance drama against theatricality to convey how the aunt, Theodora Goodman, floats beyond what the world accepts as sanity while that world marches into the madness of a second world war. White’s slow and quiet dissolve might have been possible to establish with a one-hander but for Theodora to appear as protagonist she needs to turn assertive, even combative. We need to be told as well as shown.

The story has to be slow to start, but Cook’s underscoring of each twist in the Goodman family relationships is faithful to the least important aspect of the White. A running time of almost three hours is quickened by changing gear after interval from a near naturalism to an almost expressionist style.

Cook’s portrayal of Theodora’s younger sister Fanny, executed by Genevieve Picot, shrank the spectrum of personalities. In the novel, she is an overblown rose who gets her way by being inertly selfish. In the play, she is as manipulative as her mother, and thus risks a redundancy of emotions.

As the aunt, Helen Morse is rarely off stage and even her silent presence demands her galaxy of resources. True to Theodora’s plainness, Morse relies on integrity and vision to fascinate. Cook’s text could not survive even one weak link in its supporting roles and is blessed with a virtuoso sextet changing characterisations and voices even more smoothly than costumes. Julia Blake sails through a succession of grand dames, while Ralph Cotterill and Roger Oakley each demonstrate poignancy and flamboyance. Sarah Kants displayed the many faces of childhood. Andrew Blackman convinced as the unromantic suitors.

The designers could have taken more cues from White’s symbolism which uses colours to register moods and personalities. Theodora is yellow and her environment is black, while her sister is pink, and her brother-in-law a reddish gold. Peter Sculthorpe’s score is effective for transitions between scenes, even if the carting on and off of furniture seems incongruous for what is an affair of the mind. Dance interludes choreographed by Lucy Guerin added theatricality to Act One as well as revealing the prospect for a three-act classical ballet.

David Williamson’s Charitable Intent sees him back to La mama in Carlton where his career began in the late 1960s and with some of the commitment of those times. Six women from a $180m-a-year charity organisation sit in an arc as a facilitator guides them into speaking the bitterness that has come with the new CEO, an honorary male.

Yet the truly powerful are let off because Williamson turns the tycoon, who chairs the charity’s board and engineered the disastrous appointment, into the good guy. This softheartedness towards the bloke from the big end of town missed the chance for a revelatory blow-up between him and his hand-picked managerialist. The plot comes down on the side of the woman in cardigans. She does not threaten male power.

With little reliance on forgettable one-liners, Williamson proves that he has not lost his ear for idiom. The CEO uses “the long term” and “I take full responsibility” to deny her strategic and tactical disasters. The ninety riveting minutes of exchanges and exposures could work as a radio play, but even better for the close-ups of talking heads on television.

Alfred Jarry’s 1896 scatological eschatology, Ubu roi, as revived for recent Australia by Tom Wright and Michael Cantor, gave Bille Brown an arena in which to strut and insinuate. Carole Skinner was more successful at working in with the company of clowns. In-jokes flashed between explosions such as the irresistible rise of the koala-suited collector. Ubu is a night determined to disturb the relaxed and comfortable.

Playbox director Aubrey Mellor mapped Dorothy Hewitt’s road to Nowhere through a regrowth of big ideas, song and dance, self-mockery, belly laughs, illusion and delusion, not to mention a murder and the apocalypse. By turns sentimental and vicious, Nowhere signposts an evening of enjoyment and affirmation. Leah Purcell as the battered but battling-on koori, Russell Kiefel as the Viet Vet and Peter Cummins as the humane face of octogenarian Communism continued the inventive exploration of Australian types in the other three shows.